Authors: Gary Gygax
The dun-walled metroplis loomed along the east bank of the river. Even this broad watercourse showed but a faint glimmering of reflected light, so dark was the night. Sputtering cressets limning the massive lines and curves of the city wall seemed oppressed by the near-palpable gloom.
The crackling torches, oil lamps, and candle lanterns that burned along the city’s thoroughfares cast scarcely a glow against the underside of the vaporous strata suspended above the oppressive place, a glow that was absorbed by the thick, dark atmosphere before it could spread any higher. The night sky of the Free City of Greyhawk usually a warm, golden red, was now a pallid rust color. On this, the Night of Valpurgis, the city’s many, massive gates were shut fast. Huts and hovels scattered around the outside of the walls were dark although they were, presumably, occupied. Shutters were locked, doors bolted fast.
Sentries paced in pairs along the broad battlements, nervously alert. All others were safe within their own places, charms and amulets prominently displayed, probably muttering prayers and pleadings to ward off evil. Not even thieves, and most assassins, dared to roam about on this night, while those who served demons or devils sought to commune with such malign beings, busily chanting and gesturing in the unhallowed interiors of vile temples and cursed shrines.
Fog rolled and slid in chilled masses that crept from above the dark river and its marshy verges. The slight breeze that swept up the Selintan was all that kept the fog from completely wrapping the city and its environs in a blinding shroud. In this murky mist, a small boat upon the surface of the river was all but invisible. The thick, vapor-laden air muffled the sounds of its creaking oars, so that from just a short distance away the noise was as soft as the passage of a mouse through tall grass.
“Hard on your right oar, boatman!” The command, uttered in a voice just above a whisper, came from a dark-cloaked man standing in the bow of the skiff. The riverman grunted and strained against the rapidly flowing river that seemed determined to sweep them past the destination they sought.
“So soon…” Although they were softly said, the Woman’s words came clearly to the man who directed the progress of the little vessel.
“I hope it is soon enough,” he replied. The bundle that lay in the stern stirred slightly, but nothing further was said. The standing man gave additional directions to the rower, then spoke again to his companion. “Have courage, wife. Our fate must not be tied with his!”
The mighty stones of the city wall thrust into the Selintan as if they were the prow of a titanic ship of granite. The towering blocks formed The Citadel, the strongest and most heavily fortified portion of Grey-hawk City. The Citadel was the heart of authority in the city, its fortress and palace, administrative center and garrison. Few people, citizens or travelers, sought out this place, yet the little boat was headed precisely there. With no small amount of effort, the riverman managed to steer the skiff into the shadow-black finger of water that curled around the southern face of the bastion.
Again the standing man gave orders. “Quietly now,” he hissed. “Keep straight on.” The rower softened his stroke and sent the boat ahead slowly. Then… “Cease rowing,” the black-cloaked passenger commanded.
The boatman made an imperceptible gesture, a sign to ward off evil, as his skiff thumped against granite. Although the fog didn’t allow the oar-handler to see more than a few feet away, the man he carried had known about… seen… the stones jutting out of the water around the hidden landing. “Demon-sight,” the boatman muttered under his breath.
“Call it cat’s eyes,” the cloaked man countered. The rower started, for he had barely whispered his thought. After surreptitiously making the sign against evil again, the fellow reached out and grabbed a rusted iron ring and pulled the skiff against the stones. The boat came to rest, held in place by the rower, against a small stone ledge into which was cut a narrow flight of steps leading upward to an iron-bound door-a postern gate of sorts that was evidently the destination of the passengers.
As if the contents of the bundle had become aware of the group’s arrival at this place, a tiny wail issued from inside the swaddling clothes still resting on the floor in the stern of the boat. The woman crooned in a soft, soothing tone as she bent and carefully cradled her arms to pick up the tightly wrapped, squirming bundle.
“Help her stand, boatman,” the other passenger said, taking a rope and stepping from his place in the bow onto the landing to hold the boat in place. The riverman hastened to comply, fearful of provoking the wrath of a man who had demon powers, In a minute both woman and infant were standing beside the dark-garbed man, and the skiff was being propelled from sight by the frightened rower.
“Now we cannot turn back,” the woman whispered.
“We never could,” the man said tonelessly, taking her arm and helping her up the narrow steps with her precious burden.
The small door groaned inward, rust-bound hinges making an eerie sound, before either man or woman touched the portal. Neither of them spoke, and the infant was again quiet and still. No light showed where the old oaken portal gave into the stonework; only a deeper darkness was revealed. Still guiding the woman but now walking slightly ahead of her, the man stepped boldly into the blackness. Perhaps he did have demon-sight, or cat’s eyes. As the two of them moved fully into the low passage, the hinges groaned again and the thick door closed fast, moved by no human hand. Man, woman, and child were swallowed up by the granite fortress.
“You were wise to come to me.” As he spoke, the tall mage kept the gaze of his deep-set, colorless eyes riveted upon the dark-clad man he addressed.
The man had flung back his cloak. Beneath the voluminous garment he wore rich attire-velvet and silk of the same midnight hue, but showing signs of wear and stains of travel. The face could seem young at first glance, but close inspection would make apparent lines and creases in the visage, and a pair of eyes that revealed the worry and fatigue that lay behind them.
“Your aid is most appreciated,” the man said in reply after a few seconds. His voice was still toneless.
There was a silence as the frail spell-worker sent his gaze from man to woman, and then to the tiny bundle she clutched closely to her breast. The mage made several odd gestures, magical passes, while his deeply sunken eyes seemed to become lightless pools gazing into some nether world. “You seem unscathed,” the man intoned at last. “No sending touches you, nothing ill lingers near the babe…”
“I am not just anyone, Wanno,” the other man remarked dryly. “Do you suggest I would come to you bearing signs for the enemy?”
“Of course not. Still… those who have aligned themselves ’gainst you and your lady are far from average, shall we say?”
“It is him-our son! They resent such a rare occurrence and have made alliances unnatural,” the woman interjected. Her voice, although still low in volume, bore a steely tone of anger and determination. Her once-beautiful face was as hard as her voice now, a sharp relief depicting resolve and something akin to hatred. The softening of expression when she looked down at her child, then at her husband, and finally stared at the mage, showed that her feelings of hate were only for those who threatened. “Can you realty give him safety, Wanno?” she asked the mage, hope and doubt plainly written upon her countenance as the two emotions struggled with each other inside her.
“Look about you,” the robed spell-binder said with no small amount of pride. His gesture swept the little room, a place draped with strange tapestries and cluttered with a mass of magical paraphernalia. On floor, walls, and ceiling were dozens if not hundreds of enameled and engraved runes, symbols, and occult charms.
“Since you left the waters of the Nyr Dyv and came southward,” the mage continued, “I have used my powers to mask you. No one knows your whereabouts. No force can manage to scry this chamber. Given time, some dweomer great enough to unveil your presence could be brought up, no doubt. But we shall not give… them… that time, shall we?” he finished, trying to soften his expression as he peered into the woman’s eyes.
Her face now showed grief as she turned her thoughts to what was about to happen. She glared accusingly at the robed mage but said nothing. Her husband saw this and spoke in her stead. “No, my old comrade, we will not linger here so as to allow our foes to find us.”
“My good apprentice will see that you two are safely away without so much as a stir,” Wanno said with relief. “Just place the infant within that chest,” he added, “and then-”
“Yes, love,” the dark man said to his woman. “No need for instant compliance, though. Bid adieu to our son for both of us while Wanno and I discuss a few small matters yet to be set straight. I will return in a few minutes. Then we will be off.” She looked at him, tears rolling down her pale cheeks.
“Be strong,” he continued, doing his best to console her while keeping a rein on his own sad feelings. “It is a separation, merely a parting for a little time. He will be back with us ere his first year’s natal day is celebrated.”
As the robed spell-binder and the black-clad man went through an archway into an adjoining room, the woman’s sobs were still audible. “I wonder If my own mother cried thus when I was bound to the ’craeft at birth.” Wanno’s words were not meant as a question, but voiced as a detached speculation. “No matter… What do you wish to say?”
“What news have you of the ones who sought our downfall?”
Wanno shrugged. “Little, but I can say that it seems that none of the clans now actively work against you, prince.”
“And can the same be said of my grandfather?”
“Who can speak with certainty of that one? Still, even though he never supported you, neither did he encourage your… noble cousins in their efforts to bring you low,” the mage said slowly. “If I had to hazard a supposition, I would tell you that his hand has been more with than against you, prince. It is surprising to me that the six greater clans have not been more active against you and the heir,” Wanno added, slowly stroking his wispy chin whiskers.
The dark-garbed man pondered the mage’s pronouncements for a moment. Then he smiled suddenly. “The luck of the seventh, perhaps. Those evil ones who have combined cannot long remain in union, and when they are sundered then it will be safe for us to reclaim our son. I charge you again-keep him safe, Wanno. We will be back for him soon. Your reward will be great indeed on that happy day. Fail, and I pledge to you that you will be cursed here and in all other realms too, as long as my kind live and breathe!”
“That I have always understood and accepted,” the strange mage said with an undertone of rebuke evident In his voice. “Still, I understand your concern, I think, although parent I am not nor will be. Tell your lady that he will be kept safe and secure, given all I have power to provide, so that upon your return the heir will be strengthened and ready for whatever might come.”
“You speak as if the time will be years, not weeks or months!”
“Who can say? Not I, prince. Know you well that I have tried to pierce the future, but there are veils upon veils which surround you three. Not even I could lift more than a few of these shrouding layers. The time did seem long, though,” Wanno added in a conciliatory tone, not wanting to offend this man but also not wanting to leave him with a false Impression of what lay ahead.
The dark man let this last remark pass uncontested, then seemed to mellow as he gave the spellbinder a hearty clap upon his thin, narrow shoulder. “You have always been a friend, old one, even in this city of hawks and double-dealers.”
Wanno looked somberly at the shorter man. “City of hawks? Indeed. Yet, it is a place which has suited you and yours for some time, prince. Never have rules and regulations been meat and drink to the Lord of-”
“True enough,” said the man, his face and voice imbued with rising anxiety. “Now, let us speak no further, for I mistrust even the strong wards you have used to hedge this sanctuary of yours, Wanno. I am uneasy, full of foreboding.”
“What father would not be? Far and fast you and your lady must travel now. This is your one chance-and the only hope for the heir, too.”
“What if we… do not return?”
The mage did not flinch at this; as always, he was ready with an answer. “I will tell him of his parents, his heritage, and his duty. I will equip him, aid him. in whatever manner I can.”
The black-garbed man pulled a ring from his finger, then took a small wooden box from a pouch that hung at his belt and handed both objects to the mage. “Forge a chain for this ring, Wanno, so that he might wear it round his neck when he is old enough to walk. Keep this box and what it holds safe for him so that he may have it at the right time.”
“The ring I recognize. But what of the coffer?”